The Church in Rome
The origin of this church remains uncertain, but it is believed that the first Christian community was organized by "visitors from Rome" (Acts 2:10) who were present at the Holy Spirit's manifestation on the day of Pentecost in 30 a.C.
The church in Rome was not founded by Peter or Paul. In his Epistle to the Romans, Paul speaks of the church's faith as being well known throughout the world before he visited. He also mentions dwellers in Rome who were in Christ before him. These facts suggest that Peter was not in Rome when Paul wrote the Epistle or when Luke wrote Acts 28:14-31. If Peter had founded the church or been in the city, this would have been mentioned.
In the time of Paul, Rome had a Jewish population of approximately 60,000. This community was established by captive Jews, sent to Rome by Roman general Pompey after he conquered Jerusalem in 63 B.C. When Paul arrived in Rome, he called together the leaders of this Jewish community. The church in Rome was made up of both Jews and Gentiles, as evidenced by Paul's Epistles (Romans 9:24; 11:13; 1:16; 1:13; 2:17; 7:1; 4:1).
At this time, the church lacked a unified organization, though it likely had many members (Acta 28:17). Christianity appeared in Rome in the form of separate house churches. Despite this, the members of the church were united in their faith, as Paul expressed gratitude for them all not just Romans (Romans 1:7).
The Empire's Infrastructure contributed to the spread of the New Religion
The City of Rome played a significant role in the progress of Christianity, being the fourth center after Jerusalem, Antioch and Ephesus. Despite the power that dominated the world having its seat here, a man like Paul desired to see Rome and turn that power to Christ. He believed and taught that Christ was supreme overall and that all men should believe in and obey Him. Paul had a large plan, no less than the subjugation of the whole Roman world to his Lord. The empire, without intending it, contributed largely to the success of the church through external and internal conditions of which great advantage was taken by its early promoters.
External Conditions that assisted Christianity's Growth
The external conditions of the time were favorable for Christianity to become a world-religion. The existence of a world state and political unity, a general peace and respect for law and order, military roads, international traffic, and the widespread use of the Greek language all made it easier for Christianity to spread its message. Additionally, the old religions and philosophies were already weakening, and there was a reawakening of the religious sense among people.
The progress of the Church faced numerous obstacles during its early years. Political opposition was one of the major hindrances, as the empire used its power to suppress the new religion. Additionally, religious conflict arose as Christianity refused to become just another religion in the Roman pantheon, but rather aimed to be the one true religion for all.
Moral challenges also posed a significant barrier internally, as Christianity demanded moral purity in a society that had become morally degraded and debased. Seneca, a prominent Roman philosopher, lamented the prevalence of iniquity and the absence of innocence in his time. Despite these challenges, the Church persevered and continued to thrive.
Roman Entertainment had become extremely cruel
During the Roman Empire, the populace demanded realism in their entertainment, even if it meant the sufferings and death agonies of men and women were made subjects of sport. This barbarous cruelty was not limited to the capital city, as it was also present in Ephesus, Antioch and other cities of the empire. In fact, the spectacles of the day were so gruesome that mercy, pity and purity had fled from men's hearts.
According to some, "Art must know nothing of morality and must accept and rejoice in a so-called healthy animalism." For example, in the play "Conflagration," a house must be really burned and its furniture plundered. In the mime "Laureolus," an actor must be really crucified and mangled by a bear. This level of realism was also demanded in other plays, such as "Prometheus," "Dirce," "Icarus," and "Hercules." The new religion diametrically opposed to such barbarism and inhumanity and opted for charity, mercy, compassion and forgiveness.
The First Persecution
During the early years of Christianity, the Roman magistrates provided protection to the members of the church. Paul, in particular, had appealed to them in times of difficulty and his requests were granted. However, this protection was not to last. For many decades, the power of the empire was to be used against the church.
Members were brought before Roman judges and condemned to torture and death for their faith. The immediate cause of this persecution was the burning of Rome in 64 AD. The fire, which lasted for six days and seven nights, destroyed palaces, temples, and tenements alike. It was eventually contained, but broke out again and continued for three more days until ten out of fourteen districts were left in ruins. It is important to note that this event marked the beginning of a dark era of martyrdom for the members of the early Christian church.
The persecution of Christians under Nero's reign was due to his accusations that they were responsible for burning the city. However, the reason for singling out the Christians remains a mystery. Some speculate that it was due to the influence of Poppæa, the Jewish empress, while others believe it was because Christians rejected pagan worship. Roman writers viewed Christianity as a "pestilential heresy," and Tacitus wrote of it with disdain. Christians were also accused of atheism for rejecting polytheism. Even the Jews had no good words for those who invited all to worship Christ without following the law.
Early Christians Suffered Greatly
The Christians in the city at the time were numerous enough to attract the attention of both the emperor and the general population. Tacitus, a careful historian, notes that a "huge multitude" of Christians were convicted based on the evidence provided by those who confessed to being Christians. Despite attempts to downplay the significance of this phrase, it is based on factual evidence. Paul, who had converted many in Ephesus and other cities, had been in Rome for three years and had a significant impact on the city, even as a prisoner. His influence led to the conversion of many to Christianity. The evidence suggests that the numbers of Christians in Rome at the time were indeed considerable, and the number of believers who died as a result is unknown.
Christians Endured Terrible Agony for Christ
The historical record shows that during the reign of Nero, Christians were subjected to brutal torture and execution. Tacitus, a reliable source, describes the cruelty of Nero and the Roman mob, who subjected Christians to various forms of mockery and agony. These included being covered with the skins of wild beasts and being mauled by dogs, being nailed to crosses, and being set on fire and burned for the entertainment of the masses. Nero himself offered his own gardens for this spectacle and even participated in a chariot race dressed as a charioteer. The magnitude of this barbarity is difficult to fathom, but it serves as a reminder of the vast change that Christianity has brought to the world.
Paul was arrested at Nicopolis where he intended to winter (Titus 3:12) and was taken to Rome. Onesiphorus had difficulty in finding him (2 Timothy 1:16, 17) in the roman jails. When he was found, he was in a dungeon (2 Timothy 1:16-17), from this dungeon, he wrote the second epistle to Timothy and from thence he went to his death.
*Note: All passages used are from the NIV (New International Version)